Alumni Awards 2017: Kafui Dzirasa ’01, M8, Chemical Engineering

In the weeks leading up to the Alumni Awards Ceremony, we’ll be profiling each honoree in more detail here on our blog. Today, meet Kafui Dzirasa ’01, M8, chemical engineering, associate professor at the Duke University School of Medicine and this year’s Outstanding Alumnus in Engineering and Information Technology.


As an associate professor of psychiatry, behavioral science, neurobiology, and neurosurgery at the Duke University School of Medicine, Kafui Dzirasa ’01, M8, chemical engineering, has dedicated his career to creating a kind of “pacemaker for the brain,” a device that can effectively rewire neurological signals in patients with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other illnesses. His research has earned him, among other accolades, the 2013 Sidney R. Baer Prize for Innovative and Promising Schizophrenia Research, as well as a 2016 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest award given to young scientists by the U.S. government. According to Dalton Hughes ’14, M21, chemical engineering, now an M.D./Ph.D. student working in Dzirasa’s lab at Duke, he is not only “a powerhouse in the fields of engineering, neuroscience, and medicine,” but a “phenomenal research mentor, captivating speaker, compassionate physician, and exceptional educator.”

“[Dr. Dzirasa’s] demonstrated commitment to UMBC and its students is truly special,” writes Keith Harmon, director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, “is truly special, and an inspiring example of a selfless spirit determined to ‘pay forward’ all that was poured into him at UMBC.”

Join us for the Alumni Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 5!

Dr. Dzirasa will also be giving a Grit-X Talk on Saturday, October 14…sign up to reserve your seat today!

ICYMI: Ejiofor Ezekwe ’09, biological sciences, on diversity and mentorship

Ejiofor Ezekwe ’09, M17, biological sciences, is now in his final year of the M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and recently gave an interview for Diverse Medicine’s “Black Men in White Coats” series, which aims to highlight the contributions of African-American men to the medical profession.

As a physician-scientist, Ezekwe speaks of the importance of mentorship for young people of color pursuing careers in medicine and the sciences. “The more folks of color you have on any faculty,” he says, “the more realistic the possibility seems. That’s why mentorship is key to me, and I want it to be a massive part of my career and my life.”

Catch the full video below:

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Alums in the News: Myers (M1), Ellison-Taylor, Adams

Let’s see who made the news this week…

myersOliver Myers ’94, M1, mechanical engineering, M.S. ’96, mechanical engineering, and Ph.D. ’07, mechanical engineering, who’s now an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Clemson University, recently spoke to the USM Foundation about the effect the Meyerhoff Scholars program has had on his life and career: “You don’t consider the impact when you’re going through school, but thinking about it now, it weighs heavily.”

ellison-taylorKimberly Ellison-Taylor ’93, information systems managementis the new chairman of the board of directors for the American Institute of CPAs. Ms. Ellison-Taylor is head of global account strategy for Oracle America, and served on the AICPA board for four years prior to accepting the chairman position.

adamsJerome Adams ’97, biochemistry and molecular biologywas honored at a Golden Laurel Professional Reception for African-American medical professionals hosted by the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper this past week. Dr. Adams is the first African-American to be appointed Indiana State Health Commissioner by a Republican governor, as well as an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Tell us your big news in a class note!

Alums in the News: Harvard M.D./Ph.D. candidate Kinde; UMBC staffer Banerjee

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Let’s see which of our alums have made the news this week.

benyamBenyam Kinde ’10, M18, biological sciences, was recently featured in a homepage profile on Harvard Medical School’s news site. Kinde, an M.D./PH.D. candidate at Harvard, is perhaps best known for his research on the MECP2 protein, which has a role in the neurodevelopmental disorder Rett syndrome. The profile discusses his parents’ influence on him and his brother, Isaac Kinde ’05, M13, biological sciences, his research career, and how he hopes to mentor young scientists in his father’s homeland of Ethiopia.

poulomiPoulomi Banerjee ’16, health administration and policy, was featured in a Baltimore Sun story about adjusting math requirements for liberal arts students. Banerjee, who took statistics over calculus at UMBC to fulfill her graduation requirements, said the former discipline has proven to be helpful in her current line of work as a program assistant for the Division of Student Affairs: “I think it’s great that they’re allowing that option for students. I couldn’t imagine not having that option.” Current student body president Bentley Corbett-Wilson ’17, music, was also interviewed for the article.

Head to to send us your updates!

Alumni Take Flight with Robo Raven III

Man has long envied the avian ability of flight. Wings offer the opportunity for flight, yes, but also for exploration and a different point of view. Now, three UMBC alumni are working to borrow that vantage point through the Robo Raven project at the University of Maryland, College Park. We spoke with Meyerhoff alumni Ariel Perez-Rosado ’11, M19, mechanical engineering; Luke Roberts ’12, M20, mechanical engineering; and Alex Holness ’13, M20, mechanical engineering, about their continued connection in graduate school and what it is like to work on this amazing micro air vehicle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ: Why did you decide to study robotics?

Ariel: I never really intended to study robotics. I was more interested in materials and structures. However, when I started at College Park, I started working with the wings of a small robotic bird. When it came time to run more experiments I had to rebuild the same robot from scratch. No one else was working on the small bird so I had to figure things out on my own. I slowly started learning what it takes to make a robotic bird. I really enjoyed the project and in order for the project to grow, design changes needed to be made. By the time it came to make Robo Raven I had learned enough robotics to know what we needed to do to make a successful flying robot.

Luke: I decided to study robotics because I wanted to be able to make complete systems that integrated concepts from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science and robotics utilizes each of those. I knew it would be challenging, and it definitely is, but I really enjoy what I am working on.

Alex: I have been fond of innovation and technology. Additionally, as cliché as it might be, I liked to build with Legos, K’nex, wooden blocks when I was a child. My parents encouraged and enabled me to explore my curiosities. I became a mechanical engineer because I liked to create things, understand processes and mechanisms, and applicable theoretical concepts. I ultimately decided to be robotics because I experienced a number of other subject topics at internships and didn’t find myself fond of them, and I am able to build things regularly. Robotics covers a variety of topics, which keeps the work interesting. Additionally, it is a cutting-edge field, which does make it viable for a future career.

Q: What inspired this project?

Ariel: Our lab has worked on Micro Air Vehicles for years, but recently the research took a new turn. We wanted to look at controlling each wing independently. This is something that birds do but has not been studied in robotics yet. In order to do this, the wings needed to be powered by independent motors. This means that the wings needed to be larger than ever before and calls for a whole new robot. So basically in an aim to study what actual birds in nature can do, Robo Raven was made.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ: What are the applications of a project like this?

Luke: There are many applications for this platform. Robo Raven has the potential to be used in the future to monitor farms as a mobile scarecrow or crop inspector, fly at higher altitudes and track weather, or serve as recon for soldiers on the battlefield while looking like a normal bird to the eyes of the enemy. It could also give a push to the FWMAV hobbyist community because of the aerobatics it can perform.

Alex: The project could be used in disaster relief situations, such as gathering video and sensory data (such as chemical sensing). It could also be used in educational programs–bio-inspired robots cover so many disciplines. I remember my best educational experiences being tangible. I am in the process of arranging a visit to my high school to show Robo Raven to a robotics club as a teaching tool.

Q: What’s it like, as alumni of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, to continue your work together at UMD?

Ariel: It is great to have other Meyerhoff Scholars to work with. I know exactly what they have gone through in terms of classes and experiences. This allows us to hold each other to higher expectations than other students.

Luke: It was really helpful to me that Ariel, whom I already knew, was in the lab when I first got there and helped me get settled in and just have a friend there. I was really excited when I heard Alex was coming because we were in the same cohort and actually roomed together during Summer Bridge. We also worked on a lot of projects together during our undergrad years.

Q: How has your time at UMBC helped you in your work and studies now?

Ariel: UMBC’s Mechanical Engineering Department gave us a great education and foundation in mechanical engineering. The transition from undergraduate school to graduate school was effortless and seemed like an extension of what was already being taught. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program did a great job in preparing us for the research side of graduate school. Thanks to their guidance, I knew what to expect when coming to graduate school. They prepared me and showed me the work ethic necessary to be a good researcher.

Luke: My time at UMBC helped me to learn to push hard, even when classes are ridiculously tough and life is difficult, because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t see that light very well till the end of undergrad, and now that I’m in grad school and working on this project I see the light more clearly. Sometimes it pops out of my field of vision for a bit but that’s when I put my head down and push on. It comes back.

Alex: The strength of my graduate application and research skills are a result of applying to and completing internships at the admonition of UMBC staff, 5 in total, and, naturally, the academic content I learned at UMBC. UMBC taught me the importance of group collaboration for generating ideas in addition to management of personal assignments and tasks.

GE Innovator: Brian Wayman ’99, MechEng

Mechanical engineering major Brian Wayman ’99 is using the skills he learned at UMBC and at Georgia Tech (MS, Ph.D.) to improve the lives of premature babies.

A mechanical engineer at GE Healthcare, Wayman was profiled recently on the College of Engineering and IT’s website. Prior to joining GE in July 2010, Wayman was the R&D Team Lead, New Product Development at Becton Dickinson.

Brian has several patents and patent applications for his work at Becton Dickinson on disposable syringes designed to prevent re-use of the syringe following injection.  In addition, he has several publications in peer-reviewed bioengineering journals.

Read the full story here.

Benyam Kinde ’10, Biological Sciences, Named Gilliam Fellow

Benyam Kinde ’10, biological sciences, is one of 10 students in 2011 to be named a Gilliam Fellow by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Kinde, who was UMBC’s 2010 valedictorian and a member of the 18th cohort of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, is in the Harvard-MIT combined MD-PhD Program.

Read more about the award here.